For the third incarnation of Zane Bennett’s Under 35 exhibition series, the focus is narrowed from past shows to include works by only three gallery artists, providing easier opportunities to draw comparisons among them. The correspondences are visual as well as thematic. Brooklyn-based Nicola López and Jack Warren and Santa Fe-based Nouel Riel create conceptual rather than literal representations of landscapes. López’s works are possibly the most explicitly representational in the exhibition. Her pieces include visual elements evocative of urban topography, such as columns, girders, and pylons, but they are not representations of structures in geographic locales. Rather, they are imaginative visual responses to the experience of living in built environments. For those who grew up in a place where nature is just a few steps outside the door (López was raised in Santa Fe), the experience of living in a constructed environment, such as a major urban center or inner city, might seem daunting or even damaging to the spirit and soul. But in this technological age, in which devices mediate even the most basic interactions between people, most transport is by machine, and climate can be controlled by the touch of a button, the very idea of nature gets redefined.
López’s works on paper are sprawling jumbles reminiscent of cityscapes and are informed by humanmade elements from the real world, although these components are arranged in abstract, linear configurations. Her works are not a commentary, although some may appear, at first glance, to represent broken, dystopian worlds — particularly her Monument VI, a 10-color lithograph done at Tamarind Institute in 2009 that depicts the ruins of a highway overpass. Its columnar structures recall monuments of the past, such as Greek and Roman ruins, as much as those of the present, in this sense imbuing them with a certain dignity. Her Infrastructure, another lithograph, conveys enthusiasm for the aesthetics of architectural constructs. “In some ways I’m drawn to structures because there’s a delicacy to the laying out of the underlying forms,” she told Pasatiempo.
There’s a contrast at work in the compositions: lines delineating skeletal, architectural shapes crisscross with more solid, colored beams bent at crazy angles. And a darker side to her interest in structural components is hinted at in titles such as Bits of Aftermath and Shadowland, both names of series represented in the show. The latter suggests a place of dreams, a psychic landscape. Her works can be seen as the products of an organic or natural response to living in an urban domain. People learn to negotiate such worlds and to survive. “I’m really looking at the visual landscape as a record of our humanity,” López said. “I’m interested in looking at how these two environments, the urban and organic, resonate with one another.”
Similarly, Nouel Riel’s mixed-media works suggest experiential rather than actual landscapes. After Waiting has nothing overtly representational in it, but the ragged division between the upper and lower portions of the painting, rendered in contrasting black and white, suggests a cold winter sky above the treeline of a dark forest. Images from her series Manufactured Intimacy: For Relationships on the Go are photographic scans on handmade paper that have a painterly feel. Here, landscape is indicated through anatomical close-ups. The focus is soft, like the sands of the desert under the semidarkness of a moonlit sky, a terrain in microcosm. The scan of a female breast takes on several visual associations, not the least of which is a moon during a lunar eclipse. There’s an intimate aspect to this series: Body parts such as a lover’s cheek or forearm evoke the gentle feeling of a dream in the night. But the series title strikes an oddly less romantic tone, perhaps indicating distance between lovers and fading memories. Though the scans are in color, the hues are muted. The featureless blue-gray backgrounds and the pale flesh tones lend the works a funereal pall, like the otherworldly paintings of El Greco.
Jack Warren’s mixed-media paintings are more gestural than either López’s works or Riel’s, although he also incorporates figurative and representational imagery, albeit in an abstract manner. There’s cohesion in his odd jumble of forms, where imperfect, broad lines sweep and loop throughout the compositions in both angular and curvilinear brushstrokes. The figurative aspects are often unrefined but are rendered in enough detail to be recognizable. As they interact with nonpictorial forms and patterns, such as circles and spirals, they become not the subject of the paintings but mere elements of a greater whole, their symbolic power diluted or transfigured to evoke new associations. Enhancing this effect is Warren’s use of collage, made of pages from magazines and books. Overlayers interact with underlayers in a dynamic and vibrantly colored psychedelic mix but suggest nothing specific. Some works, like his Don Juan Peyote Party,